clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Jake Luton was an under-the-radar college QB. His Jaguars career can be different

Luton’s 28:3 TD:INT ratio made him an intriguing prospect for Jacksonville (but not the Falcons).

Oregon State v Washington State Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

The Jaguars selected Jake Luton with the 189th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Here’s what Christian D’Andrea had to say about the Luton ahead of the draft.

Jake Luton didn’t win many games in college. Spending a career at Idaho and Oregon State will do that.

What he did do, however, was prove to be one of college football’s steadiest and most efficient passers. His senior campaign saw him compile a stellar 28:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 11 games — a stunning tribute to Super Bowl 51, but also a testament to his ability to find open targets and avoid mistakes. He led the Beavers to their best record since 2014, his only season with more than five starts.

While that may have only been five wins, it included victories over bowl-bound schools like California and Arizona State. It was capped by a 53-54 loss to Washington State in what may have been the low-key most entertaining game of 2019:

That firefight served as the highlight of Luton’s career. It also, cruelly, kept him from squaring off against Justin Herbert in OSU’s annual Civil War showdown against Oregon due to a forearm injury. But despite ending his senior year on a heater, the Beaver alum has rarely come up in discussion when it comes to the 2020 NFL Draft’s class of quarterbacks.

And that could make Jake Luton one hell of a Day 3 bargain for a quarterback-needy team.

Luton will start his NFL career as a backup, but he has the potential to be more

Luton simultaneously does, and doesn’t, look like an NFL quarterback. At 6’6 he should be something crafted from John Elway’s general manager laboratory. At a somewhat-skinny 225 pounds, he can look more like a Mike Glennon impersonator than a legitimate prospect.

The player he looks like on paper and the one the Beavers got are two different things. He’s got the frame of a passer who’d likely launch the ball downfield with impunity. Instead, his college career was built on rushing through his progressions to an option near the line of scrimmage.

That was a good thing for Oregon State. Luton’s preference to fall back to short routes rather than incur risk was a helpful trait for a Beaver team that lacked the pure talent of its opponents. While players like Timmy Hernandez and Trevon Bradford outplayed expectations and former four-star wideout Isaiah Hodgins lived up to his, the Beavers largely didn’t have the athletes that allowed the towering QB to throw a ball into a contested area and trust his guys to make a play.

So Luton checked down — early and often.

That’s a shame, because Luton has the arm strength and touch to be a reliable deep-ball master. He has the power to sling an absolute dart to a streaking tight end 20 yards up the seam and the accuracy to drop a rainbow into his receiver’s hands by the sideline (23 seconds in):

Per Pro Football Focus, he completed 26 of his 51 passes of 20+ yards as a senior. His 136.2 passer rating on those throws was No. 1 among all draft-eligible quarterbacks in 2019. Surround him with NFL talent at wideout and tight end, and he’ll be able to up those attempts without completely sacrificing the efficiency that makes him such an interesting prospect.

That’s a potent counterbalance to his ball-protecting philosophy. Luton typically found his open man, even behind an offensive line that ranked 69th among FBS teams in sacks allowed last season.

He’s the kind of quarterback who absolutely knows the hell out of his playbook, who will be where, and how likely they’ll be available.

“I think the big thing is just preparation,” Luton explained of his 2019 success at the NFL Scouting Combine. “We did a great job throughout the week, every week, of making sure that we’re on the same page, making sure that I understood the defense really well. But I think also, it was the first time in my career that, as a starter, I had the same OC back-to-back years.”

Luton will start his pro career as a backup. His baseline suggests he can be an NFL quarterback who maintains an offense’s flow and take advantage of the opportunities given without back-breaking turnovers.

That’s valuable! If he can continue to grow like he did in 2019 — where he improved his passer rating from 135.9 to 149.8 — he could one day up a starter on Sundays. In other words, he’s got the career floor of a useful backup who won’t lose a game with avoidable mistakes.

If he can’t continue his development, however, he might not be the player who can win those games on his own.

He’s got demonstrable weaknesses that could keep him from building from his efficient 2019

Luton doesn’t turn the ball over, but he’s not exactly an excitement machine when loosed upon opposing defenses. He’s impatient when it comes to allowing routes to open up downfield, and there are times when he does decide he’s going to throw the ball past the sticks ... and then stares down his intended target the whole way.

This isn’t always a problem in the Pac-12. It would be in the NFL.

Then there’s the issue of his inaccuracy near the line of scrimmage. There are entirely too many instances of him finding a wideout, back, or tight end in an open window five yards downfield, then throwing the ball where they’d been two steps before (or worse):

His eagerness to run down a route tree can lead to annoying checkdowns in big-play situations and even more frustrating misses on short-range throws. Additionally, for a guy nearing 6’7, Luton certainly gets a lot of passes either batted or altered at the line of scrimmage.

That plays a big role in his lack of close-target accuracy. That’s fixable, but development on that end may depend on how reliable his NFL offensive line can be. While he’s mobile enough to escape some pressure and squirt past defenders for first downs, he’s not a dual-threat quarterback and his targeting ability drops significantly on the run.

He’s also 24 years old. That makes him two-and-a-half years older than Jordan Love, who was selected in the first round despite a 20:17 TD:INT ratio last fall. He’s only started 22 career games, while Love started 32. His potential for growth is murky, at least compared to the younger, yet more experienced players in the 2020 draft.

Where does that leave a player who improved every year in college and finished his Pac-12 career as one of the nation’s most efficient quarterbacks? Luton’s relatively short highlight reel and lack of collegiate success at OSU has made him an under-the-radar prospect at the 2020 NFL Draft. He was a checkdown god in Corvallis because that was the optimum path for an undermanned Beavers offense to follow.

That leaves him with plenty to prove at the next level. He’ll have to convince coaches that arm strength and the flashes of brilliance he displayed in college are sustainable. He’ll also have to show he can read defenses with the clarity and familiarity he brought to his own playbook the past three years at Oregon State.

Those questions have left him overlooked at this year’s draft, but that doesn’t bother him.

“It’s a great class,” Luton answered when asked whether his lack of recognition in the pre-draft process was bothersome. “There are a lot of great players in it. I’m confident that I can play with the best of them. It will be exciting to see what happens. Whenever I hear my name called, I’m going to go in Day 1 of minicamp and show that I belong.

“It’s not about where you start, it’s about where you end up.”